Brought to you by Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW®) through the generosity of Saint Joseph's University.
Behavioral problems often co-occur with academic difficulties (Todd, Horner, Sugai, & Colvin, 1999). Children with anti-social behaviors often experience a high co-occurrence with academic and social deficits. Although learning disabilities may be one reason for students to engage in maladaptive behaviors, the opposite is also true in that disruptive, antisocial and aggressive behaviors can be the cause for deficiencies in academic achievement, grade retention, placement in a more restrictive setting and poor interpersonal relations among peers and adults (Kazdin, 2003).
Previously, I wrote about problem-solving skills training (PSST) designed by Alan Kazdin (2003) at the Yale Child Conduct Clinic. PSST is one method of treatment when working with aggressive children that focuses on the cognitive processes involved when dealing with interpersonal situations. For example, aggressive children often interpret the ambiguous intent of others in a hostile manner due to their faulty, distorted thinking patterns and react with aggression (Kazdin, 2003). In this article, I will examine a different, yet equally effective treatment method for children who demonstrate anti-social behaviors.
Aggression Replacement Training (ART)
A multimodal treatment designed to reduce aggressive, disruptive and antisocial behaviors in children is called Aggression Replacement Training (ART). The underlying assumption of this model is that children who engage in aggressive behavior show deficits in social problem-solving, emotional regulation, and moral reasoning that prevents them from implementing more adaptive behaviors; often leading to noncompliance and outright aggression (Weiss, 2014).
ART involves working with the child to develop interpersonal cognitive problem-solving skills and prosocial behavior. Treatment consists of the implementation of behavioral rehearsal (i.e. role playing, along with repetition and corrective feedback from the facilitator), modeling, and social reinforcement. Utilizing behavioral rehearsal, the children are taught cognitive, behavioral and emotional skills in a structured group activity format. ART consists of three specific components:
a) skillstreaming, b) anger control training, and c) moral reasoning training (adapted from Weiss, 2014).
Skillstreaming is an instructional process that takes place in a structured group designed to systematically teach prosocial behaviors. Using a psychoeducational format, children are taught through the use of behavioral techniques such as role play, reinforcement with corrective feedback, and modeling in the steps detailed below (adapted from Weiss, 2014).
1) The facilitator of the group introduces a skill that is collectively defined by the group along with outlining the specific steps necessary to perform the skill in order to practice until mastery is achieved.
2) The facilitator models the targeted skill according to the specific and sequential behavioralEach group member is then asked to recognize how this skill will be implemented in his or her everyday life.
3) One of the group members then describes a specific real-life situation with many details including the setting, antecedents, and emotional reactions of others in the setting that would demonstrate a need for this skill.
4) This volunteer enacts the role as the main character in the described real-life situation, while another group member is appointed to play the role of the individual with whom the skill is to be practiced on.
5) During their role-playing, other members of the group are asked to watch the two actor’s interactions in order to provide corrective feedback to the main actor’s implementation of the skill.
6) Afterwards, all members get the opportunity to practice the skill and receive corrective feedback.
7) Finally, each member is asked to practice the skill in the real world outside the group setting and to self-reflect on the implementation of the skill.
Anger Control Training
Anger control training consists of the emotional regulation part of ART, in which the child is taught to manage their feelings of anger (adapted from Weiss, 2014).
1) The main goal of anger control training is to comprehend the anger behavior cycle that consists of describing the internal cues (e.g. tightness of the chest, rapid breathing, etc.) and the external triggers (i.e. identifying under what situations I am likely to become angry) that prompt an aggressive reaction.
2) In the next step, anger-reducing techniques, such as deep breathing, are clearly explained, demonstrated and practiced.
3) Verbal self-statements that involve the identification and use of prosocial responses are also taught to be used as reminders to deescalate the situation. For example, the child might make self-statements such as “take it easy, he may not have meant to bump into me and knock my papers to the floor.” These self-statements serve as verbal prompts to engage in thoughts and actions in order to guide more prosocial behavior.
4) The group members are encouraged to use their skillstreaming techniques to brainstorm and arrive at more appropriate ways to handle the situation, rather than resorting to and engaging in an aggressive response.
5) Self-evaluation is then taught to the group members. Self-evaluation consists of reviewing the enacted remedy to the situation and to self-reward if the child managed to avoid aggressive actions.
6) Throughout the entire process of anger control training, skills are rehearsed step-by-step through role-playing exercises and corrective feedback.
Moral Reasoning Training
The final goal of ART is to increase moral development from a position of immature moral reasoning to a more advanced stage. Moral development is induced in the group by the facilitator introducing a relatable story or a moral dilemma with themes that members encountered previously, such as fighting, cheating, or stealing. Through the questions posed by the facilitator, the group members discuss the moral issues involved in the situation or dilemma. The facilitator is then in a position to identify cognitive distortions held by the children in the group based on the answers to the questions posed. In addition, the facilitator is in a position to label and describe the rights and feelings, and moral values held by group members. The facilitator then challenges the children to engage in less self-serving moral decision-making and promotes the acquisition of a healthier decision model (adapted from Weiss, 2014).
In conclusion, behavioral problems often co-occur with learning difficulties (Todd, Horner, & Sugai, 1999). Frequently, it is unclear when a student is disruptive in the classroom if it is primarily due to a learning or a behavioral problem. Since challenging behaviors may often lead to learning difficulties and visa-versa, it is prudent for teachers to refer students to the school-based counseling team so that chronic disruptive behaviors displayed by children who do not respond well to typical good classroom management techniques can be addressed. Often these children require direct instruction in the behavioral skill, in much the same way as they need direct instruction to acquire academic skills.
ART has been shown to be highly effective in teaching children so that they can acquire more appropriate social skills. However, only a trained professional in ART should conduct this as an intervention and teachers should refer a child with anti-social behavior to their school psychologist, counselor or social worker.
Kazdin, A. E. (2003). Problem-solving skills training and parent management
training for conduct disorder. In A. E. Kazdin & J. R. Weisz (Eds.),
Evidence-based psychotherapies for children and adolescents
(pp. 241-262). New York: Guilford Press.
Todd, A. W., Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., & Colvin, G. (1999).
Individualizing school-wide discipline for students with chronic problem
behaviors: A team approach. Effective School Practices, 17, 72-82.
Weiss, R. (2014). Abnormal child and adolescent psychology.
Washington, D. C.: Sage Publications.
Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs. Contact Dr. Michael Benhar at firstname.lastname@example.org.